State supplies funds to subsidize high-quality supervision for hundreds, but demand expected to rise
Low-wage industry employees face difficult choices
By SHERYL KORNMAN
Brandi Slade got custody of her daughter in March after struggling for several years with substance abuse and a troubled marriage. But it wasn’t until June that she was able to afford to put her child in day care.
That’s when funds were released for additional Department of Economic Security subsidies approved by the Legislature in its last session. It was one of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s top priorities.
On Jan. 8, there were 842 eligible families on the state’s waiting list for subsidized day care.
Today there are none, said Connie Shorr, program administrator for child care at DES in Phoenix.
No one had come off the waiting list since last August, DES officials said. They began coming off the list in June, when funds were released.
Slade applied in March, just before she obtained custody of her daughter.
Divorced and working full time, she looked forward to providing a home for the girl, whom she hadn’t seen much of for several years.
Using a low-income housing list she got from a halfway house that was helping her get permanent housing, Slade found a two-bedroom apartment and set up the 4-year-old’s room.
Because she earned less than $7 an hour working full time at a fast-food restaurant, she couldn’t afford day care on her own.
She applied for a day care subsidy from DES, which administers welfare programs for the state, just before custody was granted.
To her great surprise, Slade’s DES worker told her she would likely spend the next three months to a year on a waiting list because funds for child care subsidies were exhausted.
“I just cried,” she recalled. “I was pretty sad about it. I felt inadequate as a mother.”
Slade said she was trying to do right by her daughter the best way she knew how.
She couldn’t afford the full price of all-day day care – $110 a week for a 4-year-old – so she did what she thought was the next best thing. She paid a friend with a 4-year-old to watch her child.
It wasn’t what she wanted, but it was what she could afford.
And then she got a surprise telephone call about a month ago. Her wait for a child-care subsidy was over.
Slade was ecstatic.
The DES worker who called her on a Wednesday said Slade could take her daughter to the day-care center the next day.
“School is important, especially for a 4-year-old,” Slade said recently. “It’s structure, a learning opportunity. It’s what a child needs.”
But those needs may go unmet, because DES expects a waiting list for child-care subsidies later this year.
“There is still not enough (money) to take care of the demand” for child-care subsidies, Shorr said.
For the fiscal year that began July 1, the state appropriated $170 million for day- care subsidies and related programs to improve day-care services – $41 million more than it did last fiscal year.
An analysis is under way to determine who isn’t being served by a day-care subsidy and who needs to be, Shorr said. There is still unregulated day care that is hard to track, she said.
She said that determining when a waiting list for DES day-care subsidies will restart takes time.
Once the state gets the monthly bills for day-care services from day-care operators, it takes about 45 days to process the bills and analyze enrollment data, she said.
And, she said, anyone who takes care of fewer than five children doesn’t have to be licensed or regulated by the state, so those children go uncounted.
“We really don’t know how big that population is,” Shorr said.
The cost and subsidy
In Pima County, the weekly cost of full-day day care ranges from $150 a week for an infant to $105 a week for children 6 and older, according to information from DES.
The Children’s Action Alliance, a Phoenix-based child advocacy group, says full-day child care in Arizona costs from $4,000 to $7,500 a year for one child.
In Arizona, only families trying to make the transition from welfare to work, or who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are eligible for DES subsidies for day care.
The formula for paying subsidies for child care is based on family size, income and federal poverty guidelines.
Some parents pay as little as a dollar a day per child; others pay as much as $10 per day per child.
Under federal guidelines, the parent’s co-pay is required for a family’s first three children. There is no co-pay required for each additional child.
Some families involved with Child Protective Services, foster care or the Arizona Works program, an employment program, may not have a day-care co-payment.
Bill Berk operates two day- care centers in Tucson, and he said the number of families he serves with day-care subsidies has increased since the waiting list disappeared.
Until those families got DES subsidies, he said, some paid the full cost themselves and went without other things. Some families had help from relatives and friends so they could keep their children in day care, Berk said.
But when the subsidies were granted, he saw fewer families having to scrape by.
“We’ve seen so much relief on people’s faces,” he said. “They’ve been making choices on what they can spend their limited income on. They’re happy now they can keep up with their bills.”
Many of his families could be categorized as the working poor.
“We see a lot of people who are in food service of some sort,” Berk said. “We also have a lot of people who work for various call centers, which are generally a little bit higher paid. They weren’t eligible when DES was authorizing levels one and two. Now they’re opening up subsidies to all six levels.”
The six levels, based on income, set the amount each recipient must pay for day care.
Slade pays $1 per day.
The day-care center her daughter attends is within walking distance of their apartment.
Now that her daughter is in “school,” Slade said, “she is very aware of what’s going on and knows school is good for her.”
Even though they have no car and Slade commutes to work by bus and bicycle, life is pretty good right now, she said.
“I’m kind of content at my job. I’d like to move forward, but I’m pretty humble. As long as my daughter is taken care of, I’m all right with that,” she said.
Child care and work: facts, figures
• Child-care subsidies are a bridge for families between poverty and self-sufficiency.
• Welfare reform legislation requires parents to work after a child is 1 year old.
• In Arizona, there are 170,505 primary caregivers in the work force with children up to 5 years old.
• The average length of time a low-income working family uses child-care subsidies is 10.8 months.
• Former welfare recipients who receive child-care assistance are 82 percent more likely to be employed after two years than those who did not receive assistance.
• Single mothers with young children who receive child-care assistance are 40 percent more likely to still be employed after two years than those who did not receive assistance.
• All-day child-care costs between $4,240 and $7,500 per child per year in Arizona. A year of tuition at the University of Arizona is a little more than $4,000.
• About 30 percent of working parents in Arizona earn less than $8.70 an hour.
Find out more
• Go to the state Department of Economic Security’s Web site for information on child care:
• For more information on Gov. Janet Napolitano’s efforts to protect and provide for children, go to www.governor.state.az.us and click on “Arizona’s Kids.”
• Call Arizona Child Care Resource & Referral at 1-800-308-9000 or go online to www.arizonachildcare.org for specific information about immediate day-care availability, cost, hours of operation and other details in Pima County.
Sources: State School Readiness Board; Child Care Assistance Fact Sheet, March 30; and Arizona Children’s Alliance 2004 report, “Who’s For Kids & Who’s Just Kidding”
PHOTO CAPTIONS: NORMA JEAN GARGASZ/Tucson Citizen
Brandi Slade said she “felt inadequate as a mother” when she found out in March that it might be a year before state funds would be available to help her pay for full-time day care for her 4-year-old daughter. But the state released some funds in June, and Slade’s daughter now attends preschool full time.
Brandi Slade rewards her daughter’s flash-card prowess with a kiss and “well done” stickers. Slade is one of the 30 percent of Arizona working parents earning less than $8.70 an hour.
Brandi Slade says her 4-year-old daughter “knows that school is good for her.”